How Britain Turned Back The Clock Against Nazi Germany

Big Ben and Australian Troops in , 1940. HU69089.jpg

It was devised as a way to save coal during the First World War.

The concept of time has intrigued humanity as far back as the Mesolithic Period around 10,000 years ago.

Benjamin Franklin was the first person accredited with introducing some form of what we call Summer Time or Daylight Saving Time (DST).

When he was the American envoy in Paris in 1784, he was awoken early by the summer sun. He then wrote a satirical commentary claiming that Parisians would save a fortune in candles by simply waking up at the crack of dawn. He even suggested a tax on shutters and the ringing of bells to get people out of bed in the mornings.

Benjamin Franklin

However, there are different views about who should be accredited with modern DST. Some say it was George Hudson, a New Zealand entomologist, who proposed the notion at the end of the nineteenth century because he worked shifts and wanted to enjoy more daylight to partake in his pastime of studying insects.

Other people put it down to William Willett when he had an epiphany riding his horse near London, UK. He suggested that the clocks should be moved forward from April to October to benefit from the extended period of sunlight. He fought for his idea for many years with his brochure The Waste of Daylight.

George Hudson invented modern DST, proposing it first in 1895.

Port Arthur in Canada was the first place  on Earth to enact DST on July 1, 1908. However, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were the first nations to adopt “Summertime” or “Sommerzeit” starting on April 30, 1916.

It was devised as a way to save coal during the First World War. Great Britain and most other European nations soon followed suit. The USA waited until 1918 to change their clocks in the summer.

Postcard for the introduction of summer time in Germany on April 30, 1916 Photo by Grafj CC BY-SA 4.0

Most nations soon abandoned DST after the war. The UK, Canada, France, and the USA were the most notable exceptions. These nations continued to change their clocks in the spring and autumn.

The exact day and process varied but generally in the spring the clocks moved forward and in the fall standard time was adopted again when the clocks moved back.


While the First World War birthed the nationwide adoption of DST, it was the Second World War that introduced “Double Summer Time” in the UK.

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945, argued that Summer Time “enlarges the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country.” He was a big supporter of the concept as he would prove after accepting his high political office.

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

In order to better align British industry with the country’s wartime needs, the Prime Minister initiated a gradual shift of the clocks. The idea was that when British Summer Time ended in 1940, the clocks were not moved back an hour and remained on UTC+1. The following year, in the spring, the clocks still moved forward for Summer Time, establishing UTC+2.

The basic premise was for the UK to gain an extra two hours of daylight. The UK’s leadership believed that this move would increase the essential industrial production of war equipment.


Furthermore, it allowed for longer days with the purpose of saving fuel for lighting. The country’s inhabitants also got sufficient time to get home during the Blitz before the blackout began.

Whether Double Summer Time had a direct impact on the UK’s industrial production levels is questionable. Wartime manufacturing increased manifold from 1940 to 1945, but that was to be expected as the entire economy was shifted from a peacetime economy to a wartime economy.

Production of a 25 Pounder Field Gun, 1942

For example, the annual UK production of aircraft went up from 16,000 units in 1940 to 31,000 at peak production in 1943. However, the assembly of planes had already doubled from 1939 to 1940 before the introduction of Double Summer Time.

Double Summer Time was eventually discontinued in 1947 when the old system was reintroduced. However, the British government under Harold Wilson reintroduced it for three years from 1968 to 1971. They called it “British Standard Time,” possibly because “British Summer Time” would have been confusing if it applied all year round.

Big Ben with barbed wire entanglement WW2 – NARA – 195565.jpg

At first, the experiment was widely popular. However, because it was darker for longer in the mornings during the winter, particularly in Scotland, there were more road deaths among children on their way to school.

News of the incidents was splashed all over the newspapers. It soon shifted public opinion against the system. Moreover, farmers complained that they had to work in almost pitch-blackness until 9:30 in the mornings.

Members of the British Women’s Land Army 1940s.jpg

The topic was rekindled in the UK again more recently when Prime Minister David Cameron suggested reinstituting the old Double Summer Time in 2011. The notion certainly has its allure. The northernmost tip of Scotland, in Thurso, would have enjoyed long summer evenings lasting until 11:27 PM on June 21, 2011.

In the UK, it would have been an hour less with the sun setting at around 10 p.m. However, the other side of the coin is far more somber with Scotland remaining in darkness during the winter right up to 10:00 AM on the shortest day.

Edinburgh Scotland

This idea was also scrapped due to the many morning road casualties that had occurred during the previous experiment in the late 1960s.

However, there are still many proponents of the idea. London politicians argue: why should London shift into darkness during the winter at around 4:00 PM just to please Scotland? Some say that an extra two hours of daylight in the winter would add another 20 percent to the London tourist economy.

The William Willett Memorial Sundial is always on DST.

It even spawned the idea of dual time zones for the UK, using the location of Hadrian’s Wall as the delineation area.

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Whether Double Summer Time assisted the British and her allies to win the war is questionable. However, in theory, it makes sense that lives were saved and production increased because of more daylight hours.

If nothing else, it must certainly have helped boost morale during those dark years because a little more sunshine can add a spring to the step.

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